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Dutch government 'unpleasantly surprised' by Shell HQ move to Britain

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FILE PHOTO: Shell launches REFHYNE hydrogen electrolysis plant in Wesseling
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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government said on Monday it was "unpleasantly surprised" by news that Royal Dutch Shell PLC is planning to move its headquarters to London from The Hague.

"The Cabinet regrets to the utmost that Shell wants to move its head office to the United Kingdom," Economic Affairs and Climate Minister Stef Blok said.

"We are in a dialogue with the management of Shell over the consequences of this plan for jobs, crucial investment decisions and sustainability."

Shell announced earlier it intends the move to simplify its corporate structure and make it easier to distribute profit to shareholders.

The move also comes months after a Dutch court ordered Shell to accelerate its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, a decision Shell is appealing.

It follows years of questions in the Netherlands over Shell's unusual tax structure and dual class share system, which has been in place since 2005.

While the Netherlands withholds a 15% tax on dividends for Dutch-domiciled companies, Britain does not have such a tax.

Under Shell's dual class share system, holders of the "A" shares receive normal dividends and are subject to the tax.

However payments for "B" shares are distributed through a "Dividend Access Mechanism" that essentially sees them streamed through a trust registered on the Channel Island Jersey, avoiding the Dutch withholding tax.

Though the arrangement was approved by Dutch tax authorities in a confidential deal, its legality under European Union law was doubted by some tax experts.

Shell and Unilever had both lobbied for the Dutch to get rid of their dividend withholding tax. Memos released by the Dutch government in 2018 revealed the tax was a "decisive" factor for Unilever when it made a similar decision to locate its sole headquarters in London that year.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)

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